According to a recent survey, compensation and benefits throughout the design and engineering professions remain strong. The "2009 DesignIntelligence Compensation and Benefits Survey," published by Greenway Communications International for the Design Futures Council, surveyed 460 professional design practices in the United States offering such services as architecture, design/build, engineering, interior design, landscape architecture, urban design, and industrial design. Compensation in the design professions, including for support and marketing staff, continues to increase each year, despite the slumping economy.

The survey shows that the mean salary for recent graduates with a Bachelor of Architecture degree rose from $39,333 in 2008 to $41,012 in 2009; graduates with a Master of Architecture degree earned a mean salary of $47,263 in 2009, up from $42,985 in 2008. The average base compensation for professionals with 20-plus years of experience is $100,723; the top 20 percent of this group can make $142,200, plus an average bonus of 9.5 percent.

The survey also reports that interior designers with 20 years of experience average $97,800 annually, while those in the top 20 percent make $145,333, with a bonus of 8.3 percent. Landscape architects with 20-plus years of professional experience earn a mean salary of $95,143. In 2009, project managers with five to nine years of experience earned an average $66,159 annually, while those with 20 years or more of experience make $105,474, on average.

For 2009, partners, principals, and associate principals with owner/equity standing in firms will make more on average than executive-level staff without owner/equity standing. Owner/equity partners will earn a mean salary of $179,594; owner/equity principals will earn a mean of $147,452; and owner/equity associate principals will average $106,333. However, the DesignIntelligence survey predicts that the recession will have a dramatic impact on compensation for firm CEOs, partners, and principals—in fact, far greater than the impact on employee positions. Executive staff not affected by layoffs will see compensation increases of around 3.2 percent, down several percentage points from 2008, and for those with equity, base compensation is very likely to decrease by 12 percent or more, along with bonuses.

According to the survey, employees at some firms may earn higher salaries based on the cost of living in the city in which they live. Thirty percent of firms report having different compensation schedules to account for higher costs of living in some locations; however, 70 percent do not adjust pay based on cost-of-living differences.

Growth in design practices has slowed due to the economic downturn and housing slump. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said they expect declines of up to 9 percent in 2009, while 31 percent say they expect anywhere between 1 percent and 21 percent growth. Growth is expected to be based in infrastructure, health care facilities, higher education, government facilities, greening of schools, and transportation facilities.The survey further shows that support for professional licensing is increasing, with more firms paying for their employees' professional licensing exam preparation expenses. In fact, 84 percent say they will pay for some or all of the costs associated with the Architect Registration Exam. And while there was an 18 percent decline in firms reporting a planned 5 percent to 9 percent increase in base compensation upon licensure (29 percent in 2009, down from 47 percent in 2008), 27 percent of firms plan to increase base compensation by 10 to 14 percent upon licensure.

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